DescriptionJAMES ABBOTT MCNEILL WHISTLER (American 1834-1903)
Bridge, Amsterdam, 1889
6-1/2 x 9-1/2 inches (16.5 x 24.1 cm)
Signed in pencil on tab at lower left with butterfly monogram and imp, and inscribed on verso at the right in the artist's hand 1st proof pulled together with butterfly monogram; a pencil inscription of a33940 appears at left (verso)
Printed in dark brown ink on laid paper
P. and D. Colnaghi and Co., Ltd., London
Acquired in 1981 by Jeffrey Weiss, Dallas, Texas
Edward G. Kennedy, The Etched Work of Whistler, The Grolier Club, New York, 1910, no. 409, undescribed state before first of three
Howard Mansfield, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etchings and Dry-points of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, The Caxton Club, Chicago, 1909, no. 409
London, Liverpool and Glasgow, Whistler. The Graphic Work: Amsterdam, Liverpool, London, Venice, 1976, cat. no. 116
This very good impression of one of the most prized etchings from Whistler's Amsterdam set of 1889 is of major historical importance as the very first proof the artist pulled from this plate. In Whistler's hand on the reverse of the sheet is the pencil notation "1st proof pulled" together with his butterfly. To date, this proof impression has never been published or recorded.
This impression is printed without much plate tone, and has less work in the water in the central part of the composition than in the first state described by Kennedy, physical evidence that reinforces the inscription on the reverse. It is thus an undescribed state (or proof) before the first of three. Consistent with the first state are: an incomplete bridge-railing in the center and at the right; scarcely any shading in walls and roofs at the left; the telegraph frame is only faintly indicated; there are very few lines below the reflections of the bridge.
This is one of twelve etchings Whistler produced during his two-month stay in Holland during the autumn of 1889 with his wife Beatrice. All twelve are drawn from a relatively low vantage point, which suggests they were produced from boats Whistler and his wife had rented as a floating studio. No drawings for any of the twelve etchings survive, and the etchings were executed with the marvelous immediacy of a first impression. Since they show the motifs in reverse, scholars strongly suspect that Whistler drew them alla prima, directly on pre-prepared copper plates.
Within two weeks of his arrival in Amsterdam, where he and Beatrice lodged at Brack's Doelen Hotel, Whistler had hatched a plan for producing an "Amsterdam set," pitched the idea to the Fine Art Society for publishing the suite of etchings, and set to work. The cityscape Whistler depicted in the present etching has since disappeared. As J. F. Heibroeck and Margaret F. MacDonald have noted (Whistler and Holland, Uitgeverij Waanders, Zwolle and Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 1997, p. 62): The buildings along the Boltensgrachtje "were demolished around 1930. The canal on which they were situated ran roughly parallel to the tunnel under the IJ [river]."
A note on the evolution of Whistler's butterfly monogram and his practice of trimming his etchings: While Whistler was in Venice in 1880, his butterfly had metamorphosed into a curving insect with tail and antennae. During his Dutch sojourn in 1889, however, the butterfly lost its veins and became simpler. When printing his Venetian etchings, Whistler began the practice of trimming the paper right to the platemark, leaving only a tiny tab at the bottom where the butterfly and the Latin "imp" [showing he had printed it] were located. By 1889-90, he was leaving only the tiniest of tabs, usually towards the left corner, as seen in the present example.
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